MACON — Four Mercer University seniors saw their yearlong effort to develop a plan for a “college town” corridor connecting the University with downtown Macon take a major step forward Friday. Macon Mayor Jack Ellis announced the creation of the College Hill Corridor Commission to implement the students’ plan for the development of the corridor, which was part of two service-learning courses at Mercer.
Ellis held a press conference in Tattnall Square Park, across from Mercer’s Macon campus, to announce the commission and commend the efforts of the “bright, committed and innovative and enthusiastic” students who hatched the plan. All four students — Kimberly Humphries, Veronica Allen, Matt Wetherington and Alex Morrison — attended the announcement, along with Mercer President William D. Underwood, and their professor, Peter Brown, associate provost for the University.
At the press conference, Underwood commended the students for their efforts and voiced his support, noting that the University has been working to bring in new businesses to a retail area it owns near campus.
“We’re excited about this project here at Mercer and proud to be a part of it,” Underwood said, “and I’m especially proud to say it was Mercer students who developed the plan.”
The College Hill Corridor plan originated as a project for a senior capstone course, entitled “Self & World: The Fate of the City,” taught by Brown. In class, 17 Mercer students spent the fall semester developing a plan to further Macon’s economic development efforts and connect the University to the city, in order to attract and retain young, college-educated professionals. Their work was based on the ideas of Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class. The plan that class developed inspired four of its members to continue this spring to try to implement it. Brown devised another service-learning course, “The Philosophy of Persuasion,” for the foursome to help them develop the tools to persuade potential stakeholders in the plan to come on board.
With the successful announcement of the College Hill Corridor Commission, the students have learned the art of persuasion while succeeding in serving their community, said Brown.
“I told them if they could persuade people to do this, I’d give them an ‘A,’” Brown said prior to the press conference. “They’ve earned an ‘A.’”
These two classes offer an excellent example of Mercer’s vision of service-learning, in which community service is brought into the coursework to enhance the educational experience and develop students’ real world skills, Brown said.
As the students worked to refine their persuasive skills, they also refined the College Hill Corridor plan, which proposes to link the two areas through branding, beautification and a series of “retail nodes” along the corridor, which encompasses the neighborhoods around Tattnall Square Park and much of the historic Beall’s Hill Neighborhood, leading to downtown Macon.
The students continued to line up support from developers working in the area as well as community groups and foundations, including the Intown Macon Neighborhood Association and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The culminating event occurred Monday, April 23, when the class met with a number of city department heads, Mayor Ellis and President Underwood. The group proposed that the Mayor set up a task force to work on the issue. However, Brown said, Ellis decided to set up a commission instead, because the commission would remain in place after he left office and would also be empowered to raise money and do more to implement the plan.
The commission will be co-chaired by representatives from Mercer and the city of Macon representative. President Underwood has appointed Sarah Gerwig-Moore, a professor at the Walter F. George School of Law, to be Mercer’s representative on the commission. Kevin Dubose, Macon’s director of Economic and Community Development, will be the city’s representative. There will be 15 members on the commission.
In addition to the transformation this project will have on the landscape of Macon, Brown note that the students participating in the project also have been transformed.
The Mercer professor cited a portion of Alex Morrison’s final reflection paper on the project:
“… the project worked its way into me in a subtle way before it became something that has on many occasions consumed my all… It has forced me to use my talents, or those things that already exist within me that are better when brought together and applied. And while this project will take all of Macon, this project has taken all of me. This is why it is special; I put myself into it like I never have before.”
Morrison has been accepted at the University of Georgia to study for his Ph.D. in philosophy, but the project has caused him to consider a delay in his studies in order to pursue his new community development interest.
Said Brown, “This project is a great example of the transformative power these projects hold for students as they discover what they can really do, what they really like and where they can really make a difference.”
About the Students:
Allen, a senior political science major from Riverdale, convinced Brown to allow the students to continue developing the College Hill Corridor project during spring semester. After graduation, she will attend Duke Law School.
Humphries is a senior communication major from Warner Robins. She played a major role in the development of the project by contacting stakeholders, scheduling meetings, arranging events and creating products. Humphries spearheaded the arrangements for several of the students to meet author Richard Florida in Washington, D.C. She will complete her degree in the Fall of 2007.
Morrison is a senior philosophy major from Pike County. He accompanied Humphries to Washington, D.C. to consult with author Richard Florida. Morrison is the editor of The Cluster student newspaper and received the Mercerian Award for his leadership activities. This fall, he will either attend University of Georgia as a graduate student in philosophy or continue his work on the College Hill Corridor project.
Wetherington is a senior political science major from Macon. He has worked with Congressman Jim Marshall for three years and plans to attend law school in the fall. This summer he will film Road Trip Nation, a PBS documentary about finding your vocation, as well as travel through Europe
About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has 7,300 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; four regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial Health University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.